DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed that the attempt to blow up the Amsterdam-Detroit flight this week demonstrated that "the system worked." On NBC's Today Show this morning she claimed that her comment was taken out of context, and that she agreed that the system "failed miserably." Unfortunately for Ms. Napolitano, the explanation that she gave for being quoted out of context made little sense.
In her interview this morning
, she claimed that her reference to the system working just dealt with how security responded after the attack had been thwarted.
MATT LAUER: . . . You made a comment over the weekend and I want to call attention to that because a lot of people are disagreeing with it this morning. You talked about this incident aboard this Northwest flight and you said "when it came right down to it, the system worked." A lot of people don't think the system worked at all, that the only thing that prevented disaster was luck. Can you respond to that?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Sure, I think the comment is being taken out of context. What I'm saying is that once the incident occurred, moving forward, we were immediately able to notify the 128 flights in the air of protective measures to take, immediately able to notify law enforcement on the ground, airports both domestically, internationally, all carriers, all of that happening within 60 to 90 minutes, so --
LAUER: So you're only talking about what happened after this man tried to ignite this explosive device on the plane.
But Napolitano's comments yesterday were not just about the aftermath
of the attack:
"What we are focused on is making sure that the air environment remains safe, that people are confident when they travel. And one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. . . ."
It is hardly obvious why the actions taken after the attempted attack should assure us that travelers should be "confident." Nor is it obvious that the heroic actions taken by a passenger, Jasper Schuringa
, who stopped the bombing were part of some great design. Schuringa put out the fire with his bear hands while he was screaming for someone to give him water.
Unfortunately, Matt Lauer didn't call Ms. Napolitano on the inconsistencies in her statements.
UPDATE: Joe Lieberman seems to buy Napolitano's claim
that her statement was simply misunderstood:
"She came to the job with tremendous experience - federal prosecutor, state attorney general, governor. She's done a good job," Lieberman said on ABC. "I agree with Senator Collins, and I'm sure Secretary Napolitano agrees with us, too....Some of the choice of words last Sunday were subject to misunderstanding, and they've been badly misunderstood."
Senator Susan Collins was more accurate;
Asked if Collins had confidence in Napolitano, the senator said, "I do, but I will say that her initial comments were bizarre and inappropriate."
"It baffled me that she said that the system worked very, very smoothly, when clearly it did not," Collins said. "It also surprised me when she implied that there was not information to indicate that this individual posed a threat when there was information." . . .